By Shaista Tariq
We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are making a lifestyle change and turning to a ‘raw food’ diet. Raw food is food that has not been cooked or exposed to temperature over 118° F. At temperature over 118° F the natural enzymes in food are completely destroyed. Enzymes are the biological molecules (typically proteins) that significantly speed up the rate of all of the chemical reactions that take place within cells. The term raw food, is often confused with organic food, but raw food are not necessarily organic.
History from pre-historic times
The human diet originally was uncooked and plant based. The food used to be 100% raw, till fire was discovered and humans began to cook food. As the world headed itself into Industrial Age, we began to eat more and more of overcooked and processed food. The cavemen did not have processed foods on hand like Twinkies, sugar breakfast bars, bagged chips and canned food. Mostly all the carbohydrates they ate came from fruits and vegetables. Pesticides didn’t exist and all produce was wild. Their diet consisted of two-thirds plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and the rest came from lean meat and fish.
Benefits of raw food
Most foods have more nutrients when they are eaten raw than when they are cooked. Lightly steamed or stir-fried foods tend to have more nutrients than boiled or baked ones. It’s the high heat that makes food lose its nutrients. Unrefined foods like whole grains, dark green and yellow/ orange vegetables and fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds contain a high concentration of antioxidants. These foods have been hypothesized as possibly anti-cancer due to the synergistic effects of antioxidants and photo-chemicals in them.
The basic reasons why people follow a raw food diet include losing weight, detoxification, health reasons, physical performance, and also fitting in with a green lifestyle. Juicing and blending ‘green smoothies’ often are part of raw diets. In the late 18th century and well into the 19th century, the monks and nuns of France and Germany employed raw-food-eating and fasting to gain greater physical and spiritual health.
Risks of eating raw-food
For the most part, you can eat vegetables raw, and can even obtain the most nutritional. In some cases, however, some raw vegetables should be avoided, because they contain chemicals that may be harmful to health, e.g. eggplant contains the compound solanine, which inhibits the absorption of calcium. Solanine poisoning are primarily neurological and gastrointestinal. Potatoes also contain solaine, A green hue may mean a high amount of solanine and the accompanying toxin chaconine.
Food poisoning is a health risk for all people eating raw foods, especially raw meat, fish and shellfish, raw milk, and raw eggs. Due to the risk of food poisoning, a raw foods diet isn’t recommended for pregnant women, young children, seniors, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic medical conditions.
Suggestions to boost Nutritional intake of raw food
Eat foods that are as close to the way nature made them as possible. processing, canning, over-cooking, etc. all take away nutrients.
Include as many raw leafy greens as possible.
Instead of buying processed, sugared veggie or fruit juices, experiment with whole fruits, veggies and nuts to see how many you can add to super-charge your fruit smoothies with nutrients.
If you prefer a greener, vegetable taste, either for a smoothie or a power juice, then spinach, powdered greens, mint, carrots, kale, watercress and broccoli are great gifts from the earth that blend beautifully.
Include raw protein and fats from plant sources. These proteins and fats are in a form that the body can easily make use of (because they are unaltered, the way nature made them) and are needed by the body for many functions e.g. Flax seeds have the essential omega -3 fatty acids and our needed by the body.
Eating raw food is necessary for good health and is an important feature of a healthy diet. Raw food is necessary for digestive efficiency, proper peristalsis and normal bowel function. Certain foods, especially fruit, avocado and nuts undergo significant change with cooking and are best eaten raw. But that does not mean that one’s entire diet has to be raw to be in excellent health.
It is healthier to expand your nutrient density, your absorption of plant protein, and your nutrient diversity with the inclusion of some conservatively cooked food in your diet. Baking, frying, barbecuing and other high heat cooking methods that brown and damage food form acrylamide, which is potentially carcinogenic. Cooking techniques like steaming vegetables, stewing foods in a pressure cooker and soup making, do not have these drawbacks. They do not brown foods or form acrylamide. Enourage the family to eat raw food by this statement – the salad is the main dish.
About the author:
Shaista Tariq is an M.Sc., B.Sc. in Applied Science in Nutrition and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.